Tuesday, September 2, 2014

5. Reading Animal Minds And Assuming Things

Given his high position within the pseudo-skeptical group CSI(COP) it is incredible how much faith its Council Member, E. O. Wilson, has in the ability of his fellow scientists to read the minds of animals.  Ethologists have been pretending that they can know what animals are thinking for so many decades and selling their results to the human public that it is strange that the subjects of their study have been remarkably silent on what they are saying about them.   Considering that not a single ethologist has ever been an animal, thinking with the mind of an animal, based in an understanding of the world that is the product of living as an animal of the species they claim to understand, it is downright short sighted that there is massive faith among the educated public in what they have to say on the subject of how and what animals are thinking.

The problem with the claims of ethologists can be illustrated by looking at how hard it is for us to know the minds of our fellow human beings, even those with whom we share far, far more than we can with non-humans.

I would not claim to have a thorough understanding of what it would be like to be a fellow human being who lived a significantly different life than the one I have.  I have never been a black man living in Missouri around St. Louis, subject to such extra-legal rules that socieity and the TV trained minds of white people impose on black men on the basis that black men are black men.  The only way I can hope to have ANY understanding of what that experience is like is to listen to what black men living in this society have to say about their experience of living under racism.

Now, despite that large difference in our experience, I have a lot in common with black men in the St. Louis area.  Even more than that we are, for most purposes, almost biologically identical.  We are both American men living under the same federal government with a constitution that asserts we have the same rights, speaking a common language.   We likely have seen some of the same TV or at least have both been exposed to large amounts of similar media imparting the same cultural messages. We likely share some of the same assumptions about how the world is supposed to work, among those is that the police are not supposed to be able to act on an assumption that someone is guilty of a crime when they have no evidence that they are and that the police are required to impose the same system of laws to us, equally, not on the basis of appearance or where they happen to encounter us on the street.  I can know that we share that because I hear black men from the St. Louis area speaking their thoughts and talking about their experience, despite our differences.  In the absence of me ever hearing what they have to say about what it must be like to be a black man living under such things as the unspoken code of conduct imposed on black men to reduce their chances of being summarily executed in the absence of a crime would be, any chance that I could have anything like a full understanding of their inner experience is very small.

For people with whom I have less experience in common, women,  women of color, women of color who speak another language, live in another country, with different cultures, religious environments, radically different assumptions about laws and customs and personal freedom and autonomy, if I don't hear what they have to say about their inner lives, their thoughts, their experience of what it is like to think with their minds, there is no chance I will have any real understanding of what their experience is.   And, perhaps most relevant to my point, I would have no right to assume I understood anything about that without their confirmation.   No one would have any reason to believe I could speak for them with any reliability, they would have an intellectual obligation to be skeptical of whatever I had to say on the lives of those people.

Yet educated people are supposed to believe human beings can have precise and detailed understanding of the unseen,  unexpressed minds of animals with whom we share far, far less than we do even those human beings whose testimony of that inner life is available to us in our own language or, somewhat less ideally, translated into it**.

Yet, when it is a scientist who makes claims about that, it is held to be the duty of an educated person to take that on faith, ignoring the long history of the failures of the effort, the variable results and the real impossibility of their methods producing results of the reliability that should be achieved before calling something "science".  Instead of the requirements of enhanced reliability that should be required to be taken as science, in this area it is the word "science" which sells the unreliable claims.

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Wilson stakes a large part of his claims about the scientific disposal of consciousness, and so free will, on claims about how animals now and in the past think.  In expressing the prospects of sciences ability to do what he wants it to he says:

There are several reasons for optimism.  First, the increase in brain size leading up from the habiline prehumans to Homo sapiens suggests that consciousness evolved in steps, similar to the way other complex biological systems developed - the eukaryotic cell, for example, or the animal eye, or colonial life in insects.

How those "things" are alike is the first question I would ask Wilson to explain. I'd ask that with the firm conviction that he could not do so except by the most far fetched of conceits and metaphors based in an unfounded assumption that, for example, the development of human consciousness had anything to do with colonial life in insects.  If, as he clearly does, he believes that consciousness evolved in the human brain, he would have to believe that ants don't share that consciousness.   It is just sloppy thinking to assert that conclusions about consciousness which he considers the product of the human line of evolution, well after our line diverged from those with which we share eyes, could reliably be made by analogy with the theoretical evolution of the eye (in itself hardly a solved riddle).   But it is sloppy thinking of the kind which pervades Wilson's field and, in fact, this entire quest.

He continues to go out on that already over-long limb.

It should then be possible to track the steps leading to human consciousness through studies of animal species that have come partway to the human level.

If Wilson means through the supposed studies of animal minds, now, which deserve to be treated with the utmost skepticism, then even that claim is already enormously problematic on that ground.  If, since he is making an evolutionary argument he compounds that problem by a rather enormous factor.  He proposes to study the minds of the lines of extinct animals over many millions of years in the past, the assertion that you can say anything reliable about those is absurd.   In a rather incredible passage he mixes so many species of animals together in a soup of assumptions and wild claims that it is breathtaking how far fetched his claims purported to be scientific are.

The mouse has been useful in early brain-mapping research and will continue to be productive.  This species has considerable technical advantages, including convenient laboratory rearing (for a mammal) and a strong supporting foundation of prior genetic and neuroscientific research.  A closer approach to the actual sequence can be made, however, by studying humanities closest phylogenetic relatives among primates, from lemurs and galagos at the more primitive end.  The comparison would reveal which neural circuits and activities were attained by non-human species, when they are attained by them, and in what sequence.  That data would help us determine which neurobiological traits are uniquely human.

Just to take the first possible problem with Wilson's vast and unwarranted practice of making assumptions and drawing analogies to the minds of mice and "human consciousness" there is no reason to believe that the connections are sufficently strong to make those conclusions.  Since Wilson demands that consciousness and minds are physical phenomena, it is reasonable to look at what is known about the similarities and dissimilarities in the physiology of mice and human beings when you investigate the founding assumption of that belief.

There is recent research calling into question the long held assumption that you could use mice as a stand in for human beings in studying observable physical phenomena.

Murine models have been extensively used in recent decades to identify and test drug candidates for subsequent human trials (). However, few of these human trials have shown success (). The success rate is even worse for those trials in the field of inflammation, a condition present in many human diseases. To date, there have been nearly 150 clinical trials testing candidate agents intended to block the inflammatory response in critically ill patients, and every one of these trials failed (). Despite commentaries that question the merit of an overreliance of animal systems to model human immunology (), in the absence of systematic evidence, investigators and public regulators assume that results from animal research reflect human disease. To date, there have been no studies to systematically evaluate, on a molecular basis, how well the murine clinical models mimic human inflammatory diseases in patients.

... In this article, we report on a systematic comparison of the genomic response between human inflammatory diseases and murine models. First, we compared the correlations of gene expression changes with trauma, burns, and endotoxemia between human subjects and corresponding mouse models. Second, we characterized and compared the temporal gene response patterns seen in these human conditions and models. Third, we also identified the major signaling pathways significantly regulated in the inflammatory response to human injuries and compared them with the human in vivo endotoxemia model and three murine models. Fourth, we sought and evaluated representative patient and murine studies of several additional acute inflammatory diseases. These results show that the genomic responses to different acute inflammatory stresses are highly similar in humans, but these responses are not reproduced in the current mouse models. New approaches need be explored to improve the ways that human diseases are studied.

If those assumptions about the relevance of mice to human physiology were never founded in evidence and when they are tested they are shown to be less than reliable, matched with a failure of the model in practical terms in human testing of drugs shown to be effective in mice, then the even more speculative belief that you could learn anything about human consciousness through making opportunistic assertions about the entirely unobservable minds of mice is presumably less worthy of belief.  Yet, through the habits and traditions of such science, the proven unreliability of using mice to answer such questions is ignored and is, apparently, unspeakable.

You can say the same thing about using other species as lab specimens, even those who are more closely related through only millions instead of tens or hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary change and alteration.  One of the most constant features of the Socio-bioloical and evolutionary psychological racket is to pretend that the members of other species alive today represent some more primitive model of what our shared ancestor was like when they, as well as us, are the product of an independent evolutionary history as long as ours is.  There is no reason to believe that any non-physical aspects of their lives are any more like that of our shared ancestor or what they or we have in common with that ancestor and each other.  You can't even reliably assume that in great detail for our human ancestors in the period before written language.

I will go so far as to say that the entire effort is so full of such problems that it is a massive intellectual con job not that far removed from a cable TV pet psychic.   It is a con which might be sold to a gullible public as having the reliability of science but which has the proven potential to have the most dire of social and political effects.  When science drifts that far into denying the basis of democracy, they have opened themselves up for questioning on other than merely scientific grounds.  Yet they will protest that they are merely doing science when it is clear they are not.

* It has been a huge mistake to allow people to call themselves scientists and their novel innovations in academic publication "science" without holding either to  kind of basic standards of rigor.   To allow "sciences" to arise in which any "review" is done by others with the same vested interest in their "science" has been a venue to give false legitimacy to some of the worst ideas that get to be called science.   The science published about things that can't be observed has turned out such unreliable results, been so open to shoddy and lax practices and dishonest manipulation that the practice should not be allowed to be called "science"   Any "science" that starts with demanding massive corner cutting due to the difficulty of studying their proposed subject matter should not be allowed to go to the next step in earning the term.  I have become convinced that a lot of the skepticism of the public for real science of enormous importance is due to the discrediting of the brand name, "science" in the publicity given to unreliable and, frankly, wacky junk that gets to be called "science" by people who get to be called "scientists".   Lots of that "inexact science" is grown in the field that Wilson has worked in.

**  The, at times vicious, disagreement among anthropologists "interpreting" people who live in the same tiny ethnic, or large, groups of people, would indicate that their methods of collecting information and analyzing that information is hardly a science.   In a lot of cases their methods of both are governed by what school of anthropology and the social sciences they were trained in or adopted.  The results are frequently the obvious product, not of rigorous and dispassionate analysis of fact, but a desire to produce results that support the basic stands of their school of anthropology.  And it is certain that, if presented with the results of the anthropology, the people studied would likely disagree with large parts of it.  That is especially true in groups where anthropolgists depend on a core of selected people within the group who have some disagreement with other members of it.  That kind of bias due to the professional relationship that anthropologists form with their "subjects" is wide spread and, to a large extent, inevitable in anthropology.  Yet those practices and their results are to be believed on the basis of anthropology being called a science, bringing it under the same umbrella with such sciences as chemistry and physics whose published work is on the basis of rigorous physical analysis of rather simple objects.   Though since it is called "science" it is supposed to enjoy the same regard as those hard sciences.   And anthropology has some access to what people express about their thoughts, something which ethologists will never have.   I think what ethologists have to say about the minds of animals is far less effective as a lens looking at the minds of animals and more effective as a mirror, reflecting the ethologists'  thinking.

Monday, September 1, 2014

4 The Limited Scope of Storytelling And The Dangers of Depending On It

Unfortunately, for my purposes, E. O. Wilson's article which I am looking at is not available to read online except by subscription.  While the article is so full of claims, assertions and assumptions that are ripe for questioning and criticism that I'd have to violate copy-rite laws to fully look at it, his premise can be effectively refuted by going over several of those.   I will jump ahead in Wilson's order to deal with his definition of the mind, which contains one of the more bizarre reductionist passages I think I've ever read on this topic.

The final reason for optimism is the human necessity for confabulation which offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness.   Our minds consist of storytelling.  In each instant, a flood of information of information flows into our senses, more than the brain can process.  To augment the fraction of this information, we summon the stories of past events for context and meaning.  We compare the past and the present and apply the decisions that were made previously,  variously right or wrong.  Then we look forward, creating - not just recalling this time - multiple competing scenarios.  These are weighted against one another by the suppressing or intensifying effect imposed by aroused emotional centers.  A choice is made in the unconscious centers of the brain, recent studies tell us, several seconds before the decision arrives in the conscious part. 

I am rather astonished that any scientist could make the claim that "Our minds consist of storytelling" considering that the very basis of science and scientific method quite often consist of very detailed and exacting mental activity that is not narrative.   While biology, the description of the process of life does contain narrative description of events and, especially in evolutionary science since Darwin, of invented narratives in the lost past, science must include much more. For example, consider the importance to science of non-narrative description of structures and spaces.  Geometry is certainly not "storytelling".Mathematics can be considered "storytelling" only by imposing a self-interested conceit onto it.

Much of the description in science is decidedly not narrative in any sense and much more of it is not narrative in any honest way.  'And science doesn't comprehend all of human thought.   As a musician who has mostly played instrumental music without words, I would point out that your mind can go on for hour after hour of quite rigorous use, including memory and perception and observation, creating orders of sounds, "shaping" them without narrative content either being evoked from memory or read from a page or generated spontaneously.

Perhaps, given his profession in the purported study of behavior, Wilson's cutting out all but narrative content in our minds is understandable* to an extent.  But his claim that this "necessity for confabulation" "offers more evidence of a material basis to consciousness" makes his diminution of our minds look more like him being up to of his old habit of self-serving reductionist claims and scenarios.  It is a habit that permeates his article whose real motive is not to determine what the real nature of consciousness and free will are but to convince readers that those are material phenomena so to negate the problem those two ideas pose to his materialism.

It is one of the most remarkable things I've learned in reading the literature of atheism in the past twelve or so years how central the quest to support their ideology is and the position that ideological war has in the sciences,  leading to some of the worst science of the past hundred-fifty years. Science which has a remarkably short shelf life, considering the reason for science to exist is to produce ideas of enhanced reliability.  That is especially  true of the science that purported to deal with thought and behavior.

One of the biggest problems for Wilson's claims is of his own making. Storytelling, in any meaningful sense of the term, requires language.  If you are going to pin consciousness to storytelling, you have to conclude that only humans and a few of the higher apes who have been taught to use language are conscious. The effort to shoehorn consciousness into an evolutionary narrative becomes far more problematic in the course of Wilson's article due to his insistence on that self-serving definition.  I could bring up what Wilson would propose the precursors of consciousness could be in the period before language capable of sustaining narrative existed in the animal kingdom and how those figured into scenarios of natural selection.   In order to make claims about consciousness being a product of the evolution of the human brain, he removes it from virtually all of evolved beings and he ignores that gorillas trained in speech have been shown to be capable of narration, not to mention conscious thought.  How the clear consciousness and thought of the famous African parrot Alex would fit into his storytelling of consciousness is not apparent.

Wilson seems to forget that his script for how thought happens is only one of many possible ones and that it is based on little to no actual science but is a cut and paste job, putting snippets of (quite often dodgy) experimental reports together with speculations, wild and tame and quite often entirely ideological, not to arrive wherever those will go but aimed at producing a particular result.  As with Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, the goal is predetermined and that goal shapes the narrative instead of the events of the narrative happening in a real sequence.

And, for Wilson, that creation of a scenario is science, it is what science is for him.  But, as he is the one who early on said that the human brain was the most complex structure in the known universe, that it would be largely unknown, today,  his description is so inadequate as to likely lead away from clarity instead of to it.  That it is self serving for his materialism is obvious, that it is inadequate to describe something of that complexity and ineffability is also obvious.  That it is an ideologically imposed story is practically announced in his program of action for his fellow neuroscientists "set on discovering the physical basis of consciousness".   There is every reason to reject it as vastly inadequate due to  what can safety be presumed to be unknown about our complex brains and the very real possibility that consciousness is not merely the product of brains or even an emergent phenomenon of them.   The insistence that that is true is not based in science but in materialist ideology and atheist faith.

It should never be forgotten that it is an essential part of the process of storytelling that you must pick and choose what you include, even when you are trying to give an accurate idea of real and rigorously observed events in real life.  You cannot reproduce all of a reality in a story.  It is edited of necessity and the temptation to edit for purposes other than to arrive at what actually happened is always a component of storytelling.

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His last sentence in that passage would, I expect, evoke the materialist-atheist use of the late Benjamin Libet's work to attack the idea of free will, which I would guess is the interpretation of that experiment you will find at the top of a google search due to its popularity among atheists.  However, it is certainly not the only interpretation of that work and it makes claims about it, often through an incomplete description of the experiment and inserting claims about it that Libet not only never made but rejected.  Since the materialist use of it to deny free will hinges on the timing and sequence of "events" in the experiment and the matter of when the articulation of intent happens, it looks to me rather odd that so little is discussed about the time it takes to articulate perception and experiences** or even to arrive at an understanding of them.    We articulate those retrospectively, describing acts which have already happened and that doesn't happen automatically.  Considering that we come to an articulable understanding of things only after they have been perceived through sight, hearing and other senses, it is clear that the articulated speech is derived from mental activity that is not yet expressible in words.  I would suggest that is also an impediment to Wilson's claims about the position of storytelling in our consciousness.  As the text at the link points out, John Locke said that "free" was a description of the human mind, which consists of far more than just the will.

The idea that we can understand the entirety of something but breaking it into component parts which might be studied in isolation can yield some parts of understanding the whole, especially when the whole is not terribly complex.  When it is as complex as the body of an organism, that approach has far more limited success (look at the notably spotty success of nutrition science).  When it is an entire, living, being, including a mind, the success has proven to be minimal, the proposed successes often actual and cataclysmic failures.  I think that the fecund production of bad science demonstrated by all of the sciences that propose to deal with minds is a direct result of that failure of reductionism as a program to learn about the mind.

But I also think it is due, in large part, to the goal of so many of those engaged in it, to support their ideological materialism.   As the march of folly in the behavioral sciences has progressed, the predominance of that ideological promotion has been more durable than the science that progresses into the bone yard of discontinued science at a steadily increasing pace.  Eventually, one would hope, the wider culture in which magazines for the general public are edited and published would begin to notice that history which continually repeats itself.  But that hasn't happened, either.

Liberals have ample reason to look critically at the history of materialism in politics and societies, especially such things as its inevitable damage to the concept of freedom of thought, which has had a demonstrable tendency to lead to damage of freedom in real life.   While atheists can point to the harmlessness of atheist professors who would hardly be roused to violence or even roused from their professorial otiosity to get into a real argument, that has not been the result of the materialist attack on the freedom and dignity of human beings, on our rights, equally held.  The ideologically motivated attack on the belief in freedom is a serious matter, the attack on the belief in the metaphysical aspects on which democracy and even a decent society are absolutely dependent is a serious matter, the discussion of which will upset materialists, atheists, and the professorial comity that is as corrupt as that on display in the United States Senate during some of their more emetic hearings.

If materialists are right then liberalism is wrong.  It can't be right.  And that makes all the difference in reality.

*  But still a  bizarre thing for a scientist to say.   I remember an argument over Wilson's Sociobiology I had with a member of my family, majoring in biological topics in the late 1970s. He believed he had clinched the argument in favor of biological determinism a la Wilson by saying,  "But he has the equations to back him up".   I don't remember if I used the mathematical content of past, overturned science in responding to him or if I used the fact that Wilson's narratives were, frequently, self-serving acts of reification or that his claims that the "behaviors" he identified in the most distantly related of animals were, in fact the same "behaviors" with no evidence, whatsoever.  Reification and conflation are the original sins of the sciences derived from psychology and which deal with behavior and thought.  There has been no salvation for the field by those sciences and there is no reason to believe that the neuroscience or cognitive sciences in which those vices flourish, rampantly, will produce that redemption.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trying To Think Like A Bacterium Is Less Problematic Than Saying They Are Not Conscious

Life under the microscope
I wonder how those critters cope,
One minute you're flippin' your flagella,
The next you're devoured by a vorticella,
From their size I must look as big as a whale
I don't think I'd like life at their scale
Ignorance is bliss but the fact remains,
They're too tiny to have brains

John Acorn "The Nature Nut"


Someone objected to me using the phototaxis in bacteria as a possible specimen of behavior indicating consciousness due to the fact that they don't have brains.

Well, I don't know.  I hadn't thought of it until reading that objection but  the fact is those bacteria that alter the movement of their flagella are responding to light in order to move towards it,  clearly reacting in an intentional manner to definite external stimulation.  There is something happening "in" the bacteria.  You would have to explain that on some other basis than consciousness of their environment. You have an even bigger problem dismissing observable behavior in the act of one-celled animals consuming others that they find in their environment as being possible with a lack of consciousness.

You merely point out that the thing "in" the bacteria that you hold would needed for consciousness - AND ACCORDING TO WILSON'S ARTICLE THE "THING" HE PROPOSES WAS THE PHYSICAL LOCUS OF THE "EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS" and so an essential component of it, isn't there.

Perhaps this shows in a manner far more concrete than the materialists have produced that you don't need a brain for consciousness to exist and, if you can't locate a physical locus of bacterial consciousness, in the one and only cell you'd need to find it in, that consciousness isn't the product of the physical body.  

Unfortunately, we can't ask bacteria what they think about that idea anymore than we can ask a tunicate or a  bonobo or our Homo habilis ancestors about their experience of consciousness, either.  Though we can pretend that we can know that if we want to push an agenda outside of rigorous scientific practice.

Note:  Yeah, I broke Sabbath by going back to fiddle with  the third part of this series when I unintentionally published it instead of pressing the "Save" button.  You'll notice I hadn't even come up with a title yet.  Obviously it needs more work but I'll leave that up.  

I noticed I'd already done that when I came back to work on this, which I'd intended to post Tuesday.   As penance I'll post it now and I'll have to work harder to write the rest of this series to post daily

3, Materialism Means Pretending You Know Things Are True That Materialism Makes Impossible

I have been thinking really hard about E.O. Wilson's article, trying to figure out how, at every turn, his rigid insistence on materialism leads him to make entirely unfounded and insisted on assumptions that he already knows the nature of consciousness and free will and that those, unsurprisingly, are held to be in line with his ultimate framing of materialism.   At one point he almost seems to admit that his practice is not based in scientific methods but it doesn't even last two sentences.

You have to have faith to be a neuroscientist.  We don't know where consciousness and free will may be hidden --- assuming they even exist as integral processes and entities. 

What neuroscientists don't know, what they must take on faith,  is much more than that, beginning with not even really understanding that the problem they propose to solve with science could well never be treatable with science.   The history of science making thought the subject of its inquiry has shown, over and over again, the ability of scientists to make claims of knowledge which are widely accepted on the basis of the repute of science, scientists and the academic establishment, only to have those exposed as delusions when not outright deceptions.  I would guess that no other area called science has produced more dramatic examples of that kind of thing and I believe it is because what they propose to study can't be directly observed or reliably observed indirectly.   Whenever you supposedly use the methods of science to study things that can't be observed, you can sell the results to a gullible public as science for a long time but the history of such science is that it falls and crashes rather dramatically.   In these questions of consciousness, including free will, the danger of that scenario recurring, repeatedly, is even more reasonable to expect.

If consciousness or free will were not material entities, they would  not be susceptible to science or even reliably assumed to be subject to causation, which is only known through the consideration of the physical universe. I certainly think that since the human conception of causation is known through consciousness, which must precede the concept of causation,  as indeed everything of the external world which can be articulated does, that there is good reason to believe that instead of the conscious mind being the result of causes, at its most basic level, that causation is the product of the mind addressing its external world, while not, itself, necessarily being subject to causation.

The powerful sway that materialism has on Wilson is demonstrated by his willingness to assert the possibility that  consciousness and free will may not, "even exist as integral processes and entities".  I would point out that viewing consciousness and free will as "integral processes" presumes we can safely assume they conform to the behavior of entities in the physical universe when we have no reason to believe that.  But for scientists or any other human beings who are capable of articulating thought to entertain the notion that consciousness is not an entity is clearly not thinking clearly.  It is one of the more persistent delusions among atheists that they are not conscious as they are consciously debunking the idea of consciousness.  The surprising frequency and enthusiasm for that clearly irrational and unaware claim, disproved by its own articulation,  leads me to conclude that materialism, atheism, is likely to produce that particular form of mental pathology.   I'm unaware of any person who believes in God who denies that they are using what they must use to think and talk about God, or to talk about anything.

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As I've already mentioned, consciousness may be of  a nature that will entirely escape the nets and method of science.   Considering what the experience of consciousness is, that, at its most basic level, it is not known to be a material substance or the byproduct of chemistry and that, by definition free will could not be both free and subject to material causation because it would cease to be free if it were, neither of them can comfortably co-exist with materialism.   Materialist monists have dealt with that inconvenient truth by a number of means:

-  Denying that either could exist because they are untreatable with science, the methods of doing that, unfortuantely, contain assumptions that, as also mentioned before in this series, negate the meaning of all mental activity, including that of science, thus impeaching its results.

- Redefining the terms "consciousness" and "free will" in order to turn them into something they can pretend that must be a result of chemistry.  In so doing they don't address what every articulate person experiences as their own consciousness and their ability to come up with ideas on the basis of their own thinking.*  Daniel Dennett is one of the foremost academic practitioners of that bait and switch.

-  Accusing people who refuse to deny the reality of their conscious experience and the clearly manifest importance of free will of delusion, superstition, irrationality and, in the most common practices of atheist polemics.

Because this last one is the easiest, least intellectually taxing of the rejections of what consciousness and free will are held to be, it is important to admit that this most common of materialist practices comes down to is a jr high level of social coercion due to a desire to avoid being labeled as being infected with cooties.  I believe that even within rather high levels of academia, this materialist orthodoxy is enforced by just such methods.   Wilson is more subtle than your average professional skeptic or blog atheist but his article is subtly seasoned with that familiar ingredient that permeates so much of even today's scientific literature.

As already mentioned,  if someone insists on pressing the necessary conclusions of their claims, they would have to accept the inconvenient result for their own academic product, the removal of the qualities of significance or even truth from it, but that is seldom pointed out to them.  It should be pressed whenever these claims are made.

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Considering that Wilson, earlier in his article, said that the human brain is the must complex entity in the known universe, it is rather stunning for him to claim the level of progress for its study that he has in this article.  Most of those claims are based in the faith put into brain imaging and, to a lesser extent, dissecting as a means of bypassing the more basic difficulties in even defining terms.

The basic goal of activity mapping is to connect all of the processes of thought - rational and emotional; conscious, pre-conscious, and unconscious;  held still and moving through time - to a physical base.

Which generally means getting subjects who can be convinced to undergo imaging to say something within the set range of responses as to what the researchers want them to say was happening as conscious experience while the desired areas of the brain light up.  Ultimately to come up with a statistical result they can convince a reviewed journal to publish.  I'll insert, reviewed by other researchers who follow the same procedures and who have a real interest in not questioning those.

I would like to know how they propose to do that when the "activity" is "pre-conscious, and unconscious," whatever those two terms mean.  How could they distinguish such vaguely definable concepts and their variable components without the report of the subjects**.  Not to mention that all of this confronts the unreliability of the indirect "observation" already mentioned, the vagueness of terms, the variability in words people use to describe their conscious experience, the variable reliability in people reporting their conscious experience - even when they have no desire to shade that, the necessity of researchers to radically narrow the possible responses to questions and the limits of the questions considered and items included in the experiments, themselves.  The subject who reports their experience is the ultimate editor of that material, there is no possibility of reporting on human experience without that filter, there isn't even that access to the experience of animals who can't report their ideas about their experience.  Though science regularly ignores that glaring and relevant fact.  I'll go into that a bit more.

Anyone who reads his article in Harpers should consider how much you have to overlook in order to accept what he says in it.   And I'm not talking about merely things such as the real possibility that the relationship of fMRI images to alleged mental states is a mere artifact of the methodology chosen by the researchers mixed with their control of the vocabulary the people they use as subjects are forced to choose from in reporting their experience.  Peoples' reports of even their quantifiable behavior is known to be unreliable and that is something they could, actually, report accurately.  And, notice in the example of people reporting numbers of sex partners that are a mathematical impossiblity, that the results are reported by researchers who know the reports cannot be true and widely accepted and cited even by scientists who should certainly know better.

There is every reason to believe that peoples' reports of their internal, undefined and unobservable experience is even less reliable.  And there is no reason to believe that scientists desiring to report those reports will be any more rigorous or honest in their professional behavior than those who report and use the irrational reports mentioned above.

And everything we can know about the experience of consciousness is entirely dependent on the reports of those who experience it.  Every person is the one and only possible expert on what their internal, conscious experience is.  Any discrepancy between their reports and external reality merely shows that they can either be mistaken or that their reporting may be less than accurate but no one can tell them that they didn't experience what they experienced.  

Dogmatic materialists are always railing against people who choose to believe their experience when it directly contradicts materialist theory or when that experience is inconveniently damaging to it.  Yet they are the first to claim the absolute reliability of people reporting their experience when the results support their desired ends.   In order for them to try to force compliance with their materialist faith, they are reduced to claiming people who show no unusual level of irrationality in their conduct of expression must be the victims of a pathological level of delusion and self-deception.  In few other areas of life is it as possible to observe the self-appointed materialists and rationalists fundamentalism as when they confront consciousness and such questions as free will.  You can see that in history.

I sometimes wish that I had my grandparents longer, long enough for me to ask them things like what they thought when they first heard of Freud and his theories which were new when they were young adults.   I am curious to know what rational, educated people, with no desire to be up to date and in line with the thinking of the smart set made of his insane assertions about their lives and their thoughts.  We know what those who wanted to believe in his, now debunked, theories believed about them, though why their reputations isn't as damaged by buying that as those who were devoted to the likes of Aimee Semple McPherson is worth considering.  I think that is more a matter of social position of those who accepted the "science".  Clearly, with Freud's thinking, it wasn't because his ideas were sounder, they weren't, many of them had absolutely no basis for believing them to be true even as they were accepted as science.   That Wilson briefly skates over the problem as he continues in the same paragraph, only shows how much he insists you buy because it promotes his faith.

... It won't come easy.  Bite into a lemon, fall into bed, recall a departed friend, watch the sun sink beyond the western sea.  Each episode comprises mass neuronal activity so elaborate we cannot even conceive of it, much less write it down as a repertory of firing cells.

Reread that and ask yourself, if, as Wilson admits, the complexity of the brain is matched with the further difficulties that even he admits, how he is so confident that each of those experiences "comprises mass neuronal activity so elaborate we cannot even conceive of it".  The fact is that he begins with an insistence that consciousness be a physical process when there is no evidence that is what it is.

Even materialists, don't really believe their conscious experience conforms to the absolutely inescapable requirements of their own materialism.  If they did they would have to conclude that their own thinking was merely chemistry working itself out and that other ideas were merely the result of other chemical components making slightly different proteins and neuronal connections.  But they don't, they insist that their ideas have value as the truth, which is fundamentally inconsistent with materialism.   Wilson's article as persuasion or even just as information is a contradiction of his own fundamental foundations and his insisted on framing. Only, as is so often the case, they cut themselves exemptions from their own claimed reality.

*  I would propose that the most important aspect of whatever it is we call free will is its role in politics and social interactions.  The assumptions of free will as real and a positive good and the denial of either its existence or that we are bound to respect people's exercise of their free will - subject to restraints where those impinge on others ability to reasonably exercise their freedom -  make among the most dramatic of real differences in real life that we can see.

Those who deny the reality of free will and consciousness as THE essential aspect of human beings, who, at bottom hold that people are essentially mere objects, flasks of chemical reaction,  remove any restraints on those who desire to treat them as exploitable objects which can be disposed of when they are not useful or when their abuse and deaths are so desired.  Molecules  destroying each other, robbing each other of atoms and ions aren't held to be morally responsible.  Materialist monism is a complete negation of the reality of morality or other entities that exist entirely within our minds.

Since Wilson is a biologist,  there is nothing within natural selection that means you are morally bound to reproduce or even allow another generation of your species to be born.  Materialism could not accuse someone who tried to kill off the entire human species of having done something they shouldn't.   Reproduction isn't a moral requirement of natural selection, which is amoral. Though, from the start even its most orthodox proponents expressed both an imperative for reproduction and the attempt to defeat and kill competitors into a sort of moral obligation.  You can read that in Charles Darwin, certainly in Haeckel, Galton and virtually all other proponents of his theory up till the post-war period and even some today.

That is the great unmentionable lesson of the atheist regimes that have existed in history from the later 18th century up till today.  As I have mentioned a number of times, governments professing Christianity or other religions that forbid that kind of violation of rights and life must violate their stated intellectual and moral holdings to commit evil acts.  If they acted consistently with the teachings of Jesus, they would not commit those kinds of evil.  Though history shows the barrier to evil that claiming to believe that Jesus was divine is not always a guarantee of even a lesser level of evil behavior.

But materialism doesn't even contain that barrier to enslaving and murdering one person or tens if not hundreds of millions of people.  It is one of the unspeakable truths of contemporary and modern orthodoxy to admit that lesson and that it is an entirely predictable, eventual result of the adoption of materialist monism, and materialism under all of its various aliases, always and inevitably,  rigidly and inescapably devolve into a monism. Which is hardly surprising, considering the determinism that is an essential component of materialism.   For that reason, with that history, I have concluded that materialism is one of the most dangerous faiths people have ever devised.

**  Ironically, the work of such scientist heritics as Dean Radin and Daryl Bem might indicate there is something that might be called "preconsciousness" in their much replicated experiments showing an "unconscious"physiological response in an entirely isolated receiver when another person is subjected to a randomly chosen stimulus.  Not only while the stimulus occurs but, quite surprisingly, in a highly statistically significant period before the stimulus is randomly chosen by computer.  I would submit that this can't be considered to match Wilson's use of the terms.  I suspect that is not true even on the level of Wilson accepting that Radin's and Bem's results are valid though they are far more reliably demonstrated than what he bases his article on.  He and the materialist establishment reject their rigorously conducted experiments on the basis of their materialism.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

An Important Footnote

In my post yesterday I said something which needs completion and it's an important enough addition that I'm putting it in a separate post.

I think that's about as likely as the Cato Institute issuing a paper in favor of government redistribution of wealth to produce economic progress for the poor and destitute instead of the present policies favoring government redistribution of wealth to further enrich the already obscenely wealthy such as those who sponsor the Cato Institute.

Friday, August 29, 2014

2. What Would A Predecessor of Consciousness Be and How Would It Be Subject To Natural Selection?

It is tempting to go into E. O. Wilson's very brief promotion of the work of the two "neurophilosophers"  Patricia Churchland and Daniel Dennett,  making greatly exaggerated claims for their work while not saying anything about it, other than that they all agree on the value of contemporary neuroscience and the ability to draw conclusions about consciousness from that.  Like all of the people I know of who have made a name in this effort, they are dogmatic materialists who have only contempt for anyone who questions their basic materialist fundamentalism and the stories they make up on that basis.  Also typical, he summarily brushes aside their opponents with derisive terms that don't address their objections ("mysterians"). His claim that Churchland and Dennett, "have helped to demonstrate, for example the ancillary nature of morality and rational thought*," really means that they are often claimed, by their fellow materialists, to have succeeded in squeezing those into an adaptationist scenario under natural selection.  Being more familiar with Dennett than Churchland, I would say that what he does is reduce and invent novel definitions of things which are not explainable through his extreme adaptationist interpretation of natural selection in order to fit his coinages into natural selection, where the actual concepts and experiences of those things have been known to not fit into natural selection from the start.

Indeed, Wilson kind of notes that problem while both skimming over it to pretend that the problems don't matter and not really noting that his oracle, Charles Darwin, was well aware of the problem his theory faced in dealing with thought.

Neuroscientists, to their credit, have no illusions about the difficulty of the task. They agree with Darwin that the mind is a citadel that cannot be taken by frontal assault.  They have set out instead to break through to its inner recesses with multiple probes along the ramparts, opening breaches here and there;  by technical ingenuity and force they hope to enter and explore wherever they find space to maneuver.

I will refer to my recent post of a letter by Darwin in which he goes much farther than Wilson would want to take seriously in the implications of the idea that our thinking is the mere ancillary result of natural selection.  It would empty our ideas, even our science of any possible value of truth or objective significance.

Materialism removes any possibility of significance being a real quality of anything. What the materialist view of life boils down to is the devaluing of all aspects of it, us included, making us no different from any other locus of chemical reactants reacting.  Thoughts would have no more truth value than the digestion of lactose or metals oxidizing in the atmosphere.   The theory of Natural Selection, never mind its mere ancillaries such as Sociobiology and "neueophilosophy" would not escape that demotion and would have, in fact, the same lack of truth value as the most retrograde aspects of the "postmodernism," "mysterianism" that Wilson scoffs at or, for that matter, statements issued by ISIS or contained in this weeks National Enquirer.   Wilson's school of thought removes any legitimate claims that it or any academic topic has to the attention of a public entertained or enthralled by other ideas.

How the quest for reproduction by molecules and their hosts, living organisms, even conscious animals, can be real or ever have arisen in such a universe is a puzzle that came to me as I read Wilson's article.  How do you explain why molecules before life would have ever had an urge to reproduce if nothing matters?[See update]  Why our earliest ancestor would have reproduced, perhaps at great risk to its continued existence in the earliest acts of reproduction,  promises to be a fun thing to think about.  It feels like an idea which could confound the likes of Dennett and Wilson, especially if you brushed aside their mild derision and airy dismissal and pressed the issue.

Furthermore, the entire description of the mind as a "citadel" to be taken by fMRI and other imaging is diverting as a narrative metaphor but it is absurd considering that any such attempt will have to begin from within that very "citadel" using whatever "defenses" it has hidden within those very recesses which the minds of neuroscientists and others will strive to take it from.   The absurdly inadequate as well as opportunistic metaphor of taking a castle will, as is typical of the psychological use of metaphor, become the frame of the intellectual attempt while forgetting that it is an shoddy, rude and inadequate metaphor.  The metaphor will become the message which was predetermined by the intentions of those waging the campaign.  Does anyone have any doubt that Wilson, Churchland, or Dennett and their fellow materialists will never produce any findings that contradict their a priori  intent of "finding" a material explanation of the mind?   I think that's about as likely as the Cato Institute issuing a paper in favor of government redistribution of wealth to produce economic progress for the poor and destitute.

-------

Perhaps even more problematic for the attempt to explain consciousness as a product of molecular action as worked on by natural selection is that it requires there to be some sort of pre-consciousness that developed such as the eye is believed to have developed from some kind of light sensitive nerves at the skin. What that precursor could have been is far harder to imagine and define than a physical nerve that is sensitive to light.

Consciousness isn't a divisible or reducible phenomenon, it is a direct experience of itself, the means through which we experience anything or think or speak about it.  We talk about "semi-consciousness" to refer to our occasional muddied thinking but any conscious experience is consciousness.  You are either conscious or you are not, you aren't half-conscious because any consciousness is an experience of consciousness.  There is no getting around the fact that consciousness would have had to come about full blown.  A light sensitive bacterium that can be seen to react to light can justly be considered to be conscious of the light. How could you explain its clearly intentional action on any other basis?  Of course that requires us to imagine, with our human minds, what it's like to be a bacterium which, I submit, is unlikely to be accurate because we are not bacteria, living the lives of bacteria in their habitat.  But the fact that they can react to external stimuli, taking action that is, clearly, good according to them in response to it, justifies considering them to be conscious.  Any attempt to define that bacterial consciousness will inevitably not really address it, it will merely be an attempt for us to match it to a human narrative based on human experiences with no possible verification from the bacteria that we got it right.  And that would be easy compared to coming up with a comprehensible precursor to consciousness that had real effects in the world and lives of creatures we must imagine in their entirety because we have no specimens of pre-conscious, behaving organisms.  We couldn't even identify any alive today.

Yet the effort to turn consciousness into a mere product of molecular action, favoring their reproductive success, the development of the quest for reproductive success, requires us to go much, much farther and imagine some kind of unimaginable predecessor experience that was not experienced but which, through natural selection, became consciousness.  If Wilson would like to describe such a state of being I'd be curious to see what he comes up with, though I doubt it would be even as relevant to our experience of consciousness than direct democracy in a town meeting is to life in an ant colony. Any such explanation of this "pre-conscious" "pre-experience" will be a merely imaginary construct motivated by materialist fundamentalism and professional opportunism.   How this "pre-consciousness" removed from experience of an organism would work in a scheme of reproductive success in natural selection would have to wait for an explaination of what it would be, though I suspect the cart would come before the eohippus in whatever is written.

And if you think that last sentence was extreme, it is less extreme than the effort to chop away at the experience and phenomenon of consciousness because you insist that everyone must begin with natural selection and work backward to force all of life into that, already, artificial construct.  Which is what Wilson, Dennett and Churchland do.  In that they ignore the fact that it is consciousness that precedes all intellectual activity, it precedes the invention of natural selection, something which does not have an independent existence that comes before Darwin's idea, which is the product of consciousness.

*  Consider what that sentence could mean, and it is hardly a well thought out concept or statement.   What would it mean for any intellectual, indeed scientific or philosophical exposition, if rational thought were merely "ancillary" to some unspecified something.   Despite the attitude we are supposed to take in respect to such intellectual products, that would make any academic enterprise dependent on reason to be even lower down on the imagined hierarchy.  Only materialists never seem to take that into consideration.

Update:  I don't believe there is intentionality in molecules, I don't even believe molecules within living organisms have intentions, that's a claim derived from Wilson's Sociobiology, though it's been implied by natural selection in its atheist, materialist fundamentalist interpretation from the start.  I am merely pointing out the consequences of believing what Wilson et al are claiming.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

E.O. Wilson Against Free Will: 1. To a Myrmecologist Everything Is Ants

I  have read the essay, "On Free Will and how the brain is like a colony of ants," by E.O Wilson, which appears in this months' Harpers magazine and am going to be taking some time with it.  The reason for that is that Wilson has managed to include so much sloppy thinking stated so arrogantly and with a pose of authoritative difinitude and philosophical ineptitude that it is breathtaking that a major magazine would publish it.  That an academician of his standing can write something like it looks like a milestone in the march of intellectual decadence mistaking itself as a golden age.

It was tempting to point out that Wilson's problems begin as soon as the third sentence of his text but looking again at the title that would put off the critique far too long.   I recall someone pointing out, back in the 1960s, when he still had a position in science of the kind that Wilson does today, that B. F. Skinner's work with pigeons in boxes was the obvious frame through which he looked at everything, including the human mind.  Back then Skinner's model of thought was  just as much science as Wilson's is today.  But it was science which was rather definitively demolished by a philosophical look at it.  His social and cultural influence lasted as long as he lived due to the repute that a position as a senior faculty member of Harvard and then an emeritus professor can create and sustain among those who aren't particularly deep thinkers.   I would guess that his greatest influence came after behaviorism was debunked due to his ability to turn out a couple of best selling books.

I will be rash enough to doubt that Wilson's ant metaphor for the brain will last any more than Skinners pigeon metaphor did.  That both of those were the products of a larger materialist monist ideological foundation, which it also shared with such other discontinued models of the mind as that of the Freud might start to imply that problem with those cathedrals of science are built on wet sand that inevitably rots them from the foundation.  I doubt that any of them tell us much of anything except for the preferred framing of the men who produced them.  That all of them enjoyed the full status of science in academic, social and even legal contexts is, as well, testimony to the fact that repute in science is no guarantee of reliability or even durability, though it can, sometimes, produced institutions which share more with established churches than most of those inside them would care to have pointed out.

As I said the serious problems begin with the first three sentences of Wilson's text.

Neuroscientists who work on the human brain seldom mention free will. Most consider it a subject better left, at least for the time being, to philosophers. Meanwhile, their sights are set on discovering the physical basis of consciousness, of which free will is a part.

Being such a rank amateur in philosophy that I would object if someone even called me an amateur, a philospher might point out that there are some rather glaring problems with an assertion that free will can have a physical basis, especially a physical basis of kind which science is designed to study.  This is due to the dependence of scientific explanations on relationships within nets of causality, in which every result is the product of definable and set deterministic precedents and their determined actions.  Such a method of study could look for something outside of that net of causality and never find it and free will, by definition, would have to be free of that net.   If, as Wilson unsurprisingly insists, that anything legitimate to be said on the subject would have to be said by science, then, of course, free will can't be more than a delusion.   Anything called "free will" or "consciousness" for that matter, which can't be detected with science could not be redefined to fit into science and retain its most important and salient features.

To definitely say that consciousness has a physical basis - in itself unproven and likely unprovable - is subject to the same problems as basing free will on physical causation.   I would hope that a competent and free thinking philosopher, honest enough to be trying to discern the truth or reality instead of propping up a preferred ideology would point these problems out.  And a competent philosopher could probably come up with aspects of that problem which I have not even noticed.   I will remind any neuroscientist, materialist philosopher, not to mention emeritus myrmecologist of the dangers that philosophical short cuts made for the behaviorism which Wilson's Sociobiology succeeded.  Though I don't think you could really say that it supplanted the earlier, defunct science so much as filled the vacuum left by its demise.

Wilson then says

No scientific quest is more important to humanity. 

G
iven the piece I reposted here last week in which I identified the Holocaust (and other genocides by dictatorships) as the most important moral event of the last century and the fact that it was brought about by people who either held that free will was a delusion, impossible, not important or bad, I would agree with a statement that promoting the belief and respect for it, as well as other metaphysical attributes of the mind, is among the most important quests of humanity.

Given the fact that every, single time that scientists insist that it is their business to trap consciousness or, worse, free will,  in a net of causation and mount it as a pinned specimen for display and further study, that they end up damaging that belief, I wish they would cut it out of their consideration.  It is especially troubling to have Wilson, the world's most famous ant man looking into the question because we have already seen his framing and how that presents human life and societies.  His practice in Sociobiology and its successor, evolutionary psychology, to assert shared "traits" from the social insects manifested from them, clear across the entire animal taxonomy, in human beings, even without any real evidence that there are "behaviors" or that "behaviors" asserted are actually the same in species no more closely related than the hundreds of millions of years of evolution from a theoretical shared ancestor* is hardly a scientific determination,  they are more the products of willful narration than of actual links based on rigorous evidence.

Wilson then asserts that:

The physical basis of of consciousness won't be an easy phenomenon to grasp. The human brain is the most complex system, either organic or inorganic, known in the universe.

He goes on to present the rudest of schematic descriptions of the neuro-anatomy of brains, itself based on the, presumably, preliminary knowledge we have of that "most complex system... known in the universe".  Even more problematically, he asserts how those are asserted to work on the basis of that schematic knowledge.  If he is aware at the problems of asserting anything like that on the basis of present day knowledge of the brain, he doesn't seem to take those seriously.  If he is aware that all of the assertions made about how "the brain works" are, as well, based in ideological if not philosophical assumptions - his own materialism, for example - I don't see any evidence of that, whatsoever.   The extent to which that flow chart could be the product of imagination based on ideology and required framing within the scientific and academic establishment is worth considering, certainly if the question is as important as Wilson says it is.  But that is hardly ever done, even by philosophers and never, to my knowledge, by neuroscientists.  But, considering the fact that the crude materialism that is the foundation of all of this article was shown to be fatally problematic in physics and how that is ignored by those who invoke physics, I'm not waiting up nights for them to understand the problem of their assertions.

I have increasingly come to believe that a lot of stuff, even very important stuff, within science is the artifact of framing and ideology, desiring to fill in gaps in knowledge and entire areas of human experience.  Some of those, I've come to conclude, exist only in the imagination of scientists.  I have become skeptical that the mother of all such ideas, natural selection, is a real thing, believing it is merely a required lens through which members of the educated class are required to view evolutionary science, biology and, as can be seen in this topic, the utterly ineffable matter of the consciousness which is the basis of everything we think, including thinking about these things, including the thinking of Wilson and his fellow ideologues.  As a matter of academic legalism, it is also the vocabulary through which everything said about such things is required to be expressed, on pain of disrepute and expulsion.  Even using a different vocabulary will be considered incomprehensible and heretical.

I think a look at discontinued science might teach us a lot about how such required thoughts come into being, gain currency and then become a required means of understanding,  only to, then, be overturned**.   I look at the list of discontinued science from the past century and those sciences today which, being based on anything from a total lack of evidence to study, to ideologically framed evidence, to the ideologically framed creations based on ideological framing, and even the further manipulation of those creations and find that the dogma of materialism is, in every case, the foundation and the motive for it.  I went through "exobiology" yesterday and I've gone through others, abiogenesis, .... on the basis of the outrageous assertions of certitude based on scant to no evidence in those and Wilson's assertions in this article, I will predict that all of those will, in the future, be as forgotten as any now ditched idea is.

Considering the title of his piece, Wilson says something,  incredibly unaware of its irony.

Philosophers have labored for more than two thousand years to explain consciousness.  Innocent of biology, however, they have for the most part gotten nowhere.  I don't believe it too harsh to say that the history of philosophy when boiled down consists mainly of failed models of the brain.

Call me a skeptic but I, somehow, think that long after the 20th century world's foremost ant specialist's model of the brain has long been relegated to a quaint curiosity, if not a joke, people will still find even such things as Plato's cave and large parts of the Buddhist psychology useful and relevant.  For Wilson to make such a statement in an article with his title is an example of incredible arrogance of the kind that only the truly unaware and pathologically narrowly focused can have.

In the episode of WKRP in Cinncinati in which Dr. Joyce Brothers played the jeans magnate, "Vicky von Vicky," she walks in on three of the regulars rather bizarrely kneeling on a hotel floor in her jeans - they're hoping to nail down an advertising account.  As they are trying to explain their behavior she says,
"All I see are three pairs of jeans on the floor".   Which is as much if not more of an insight into how the human mind might operate as anything I read in Wilson's article.

*  Considering that those "behaviors" today are actually separated by two divergent lines of evolutionary history, those hundreds of millions of years should be multiplied by two,  I'd think.

** Physics has produced a good example to study, the luminiferous ether.   
I move through this “luminiferous ether” as if it were nothing. But were there vibrations with such frequency in a medium of steel or brass, they would be measured by millions and millions and millions of tons’ action on a square inch of matter. There are no such forces in our air. Comets make a disturbance in the air, and perhaps the luminiferous ether is split up by the motion of a comet through it. So when we explain the nature of electricity, we explain it by a motion of the luminiferous ether. We cannot say that it is electricity. What can this luminiferous ether be? It is something that the planets move through with the greatest ease. It permeates our air; it is nearly in the same condition, so far as our means of judging are concerned, in our air and in the inter-planetary space. The air disturbs it but little; you may reduce air by air-pumps to the hundred thousandth of its density, and you make little effect in the transmission of light through it. The luminiferous ether is an elastic solid, for which the nearest analogy I can give you is this jelly which you see, 5 and the nearest analogy to the waves of light is the motion, which you can imagine, of this elastic jelly, with a ball of wood floating in the middle of it. Look there, when with my hand I vibrate the little red ball up and down, or when I turn it quickly round the vertical diameter, alternately in opposite directions;—that is the nearest representation I can give you of the vibrations of luminiferous ether.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Life Is Good So Is Thinking So Is Thinking It Through

I am a bit behind in answering my hate mail/hate comments.  It's one of the benefits of getting hate messages, you don't feel an obligation to answer it unless you want to.  And one of the benefits of having your computer down for several days.  It's back, for now.

One recently found message in my trash asserts that "life exists on many planets ... life is a result of physics not of your imaginary friend in the sky", along with some rather predictable invective.

How does that follow?

I have dealt quite definitively, I assert,  with the question of "other life" in the universe based on present day knowledge.   The chances of there being life on any planet is known to be at least one in whatever the number of possible venues of life in the universe there are.   If you want to consider the possibility of life in places other than planets, you're just stupendously increasing both the range of possible numbers of those variables and the unlikelihood of knowing what those are.

At present we know that to be 1/p in which 1 is the known number of places in which life is known to exist and p is whatever whole number, including 1 where life can possibly arise in the universe.  At present we know that number can be 1/1 and it is possible that is the correct number for that probability.  In fact, that is the only possible value of that quotient that we know is possible, today.   I would say that anyone who thinks people, unaided by a vastly more able intelligence, could get that to be even 2/2 would be wildly optimistic.  I doubt that anyone short of God could know what the figure in the denominator of that fraction would be.  I doubt anyone short of that universal intelligence would have any way of knowing what the number or even types of locations in which life could arise in the universe is.  I think if you believe that likely far larger number is going to be known by people you are even more wildly optimistic.  One of the biggest problems in discovering it would be that we would have to know all possible life forms and the conditions under which those arise.  Which is a practical impossibility because we will never know if we do know all of those.

As to the discovery of "other life" killing off God, I don't see how that follows. Not at all.  It doesn't even kill off the God of the Hebrew scriptures.

If, as is widely believed, God willed there to be life on our one planet, God might want to use some of the rest of creation to will more life into being.   In the Genesis creation story God is said to have looked on the creation of life several times and seen "that it was good".

In the King James translation of Psalm 30 it says "in His favor is life".   Despite what some self-appointed bully boy of fundamentalism said to get his name in the news (Ken Ham) the idea that God might have found life so good that it is an intrinsic part of the physical universe also named as His creation that life will arise, over and over again, in many forms, with many purposes that we can't comprehend because we don't happen to be God.

Despite what current atheists repeat out of ignorance, the entire text of The Bible asserts, over and over again that life is good, that life is part of the purpose of God and that the diversity of life is good. The idea that God finds life to be good is entirely consistent with there being life in other places in the universe.

I look at what some numbnuts like Ken Hamm says about scriptures and see that what he said says everything about what his preferences are and not what is said in the scriptures.  I look at atheist assertions about what the finding of "other life" means and see everything about what their preferences are, not what a conclusive conclusion that could be drawn from that would be.

No, your claim, and it is one that other pop-atheists have asserted, that finding "other life" would be the nail in the coffin of God is wishful thinking on your part. If you bothered to think about the question instead of making wild claims of the certainty of "other life" being there when we have no evidence that is true, you might stop wasting your time on such flawed ideas.

So, the real answer to your assertions is that no one knows if there is "other life" and no one knows what that existing or not existing implies about the "existence" of God.  But one thing is sure, anyone who claims what you did hasn't thought their position through.

Update:  The fact is that the existence of life on one planet, ours, is an enormous problem for atheists because they can't explain its existence.  When you mix the human intelligence and consciousness that they use to think about these things into the problem, it's a lot harder for materialists, atheists, than it is for religious people.  That is why atheists expend so much effort in to turning consciousness into the same thing as lifeless chemistry, because life and conscious life is a far bigger problem for them than it is for non-materialists and, especially, non-atheists.  I haven't looked at it yet, but there is an article in the Harpers magazine a friend just gave me in which E.O. Wilson addresses the question of free will.  I, somehow, doubt he's going to entertain the idea that it is at all possible because such a thing is not possible in materialism.   I might bother reading it within the next few days and may go through what he says, if it's any different from what I've read from atheists over and over again.   Even as expansive an atheist as Sartre held Les Jeux Sont Faits.


Monday, August 25, 2014

More Problems

I'm going to have to have a real computer person try to fix this thing so I might or might not be posting for the next few days.  It's decidedly screwed up, giving that irritating blue screen that says it Windows couldn't start and it's trying to fix the problem.  Yeah, like Windows 8 did on the other computer I've tried.  I thought I'd get used to Windows 8 but I hear a rumor that Microsoft is bailing on it, already. Jerks.  

Sorry about that but some days I hate my computer.

Update:  I've answered that question before, the reason I haven't asked people to give me money or buy me things was said best by the late Quentin Crispe in The Naked Civil Servant,  I don't ask strange men for things because I don't think they'd give it to me.  For better or worse, this effort relies on my ability to pay for the overhead. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Play Left Invades Ferguson

This article on Mother Jones, yesterday, lists some of the outside groups who have shown up in Ferguson, Missouri, some helpful, some grotesquely irresponsible, idiotic "revolutionary" opportunists so incredibly stupid that they seem to believe that inciting violence in Ferguson will spark the glorious revolution that will bring their Communist party to power, the bulwark of the glorious millennium when that old dialectic points to them as the end point of material existence and declares "you rule, man".  If you think that sentence is overblown, all I can say is you can't read much of their material without sustaining at least temporary damage*.   The various groups, most of whom don't care at all about the residents of that town and the occupation by a homicidal and fascistic police force, will stay only as long as they can turn the protests by the people who live there into a media carnival.   For which they can go to hell as far as I'm concerned.

Some of them, such as the incredibly stupid political cult, Bob Avakian's Communist Revolutionary Party, are eager Maoists.  You don't have to imagine how Mao would have handled any such demonstrations in the country he dictated to,  he'd have killed all of them.  As bad as the police in Ferguson are, as fascistic as their tactics are,  they were under some constraints.  I've noted before how the drooling revolutionaries of Bob's army hope to ignite the world wide revolution they believe is just around the corner.  And they have decided to make Ferguson their beachhead, whether or not the people who live there agree.  In real life, I doubt they could conduct a special town meeting without it turning into a brawl brought on by competing personalities trying to grab the mic, turning the meeting into a war of competing and resenting factions.   I would guess that they really believe that they are always on the brink of calling their fearless leader back from his self-imposed exile in France to some place such as Ferguson to take charge of the revolution.  If he hasn't since stopped breathing since I began writing this, I would guess that the Larouchies imagine something similar.

A rule of thumb about these kinds of groups that come in and try to hijack high profile local protests is that any of them that advocate or encourage violence are not in it for the benefit of the people who live there.  Those people will leave, the people who live there will be the ones who have to live with the aftermath of their exciting and titillating violence.  This is especially true when there is some intellectual program thought up in some other place, like San Francisco or by a bunch of white intellectuals who never have to live with the results of the violence they call for, when that violence has to stop, as it always does, the Revolution it was supposed to incite delayed for future opportunities.

Especially stupid are the anarchists who would have all civil authority
end, leaving communities to be governed by those who always rise up whenever the police leave, gangsters and gangsters who war with each other as they terrorize, rob and exploit the people who have no choice but to live there.  And I will repeat that, we know what would happen under anarchism because it happens in any section of a city or country where there is a vacuum of civil authority and police presence, the gangs take over.   The problem in Ferguson was that the police were a white occupation army in a black community, the answer to that is to have an effective police force which is part of the community.  It is remarkable, considering their professed beliefs, now little faith anarchists have in the ability of The People to govern themselves when that has actually, if all too rarely, happened.

As distasteful as it is to put it this way, police are absolutely necessary to a democratic community and society because stopping criminals from doing the things they want to do is necessary.  The violence that criminals use to get what they want - and in a disturbing number of cases violence is what they want  BECAUSE THEY ARE GRATIFIED BY VIOLENCE** - will only be countered by the possibility of the use of violence to stop or control them.  Violence will be there and the threat of violence to counter it must be placed in the hands of police who are answerable to the community.  Since guns are going to be carried and violence used, I'd rather take a chance on it being the police who are authorized by government have them than a bunch of thugs answerable to the most ruthless crime boss who climbed his way to the top by being the most violent and ruthless.

That was the problem in Ferguson, the police were not answerable to the community and it obviously had developed a malignant and anti-democratic, anti-community culture.  The answer to that isn't to import idiots who like violence and whose intentions are so stupid that it would replace an out of control police force with the gangsters who would replace them.   There has to be a way found to make the police what they have to be in a decent society, the responsible and so respected servants of the community.  You've got to route out the occupier thinking in the community, which is especially hard to do if there is a high crime rate. The police have to have the resources and training and oversight to do what they must do.  I don't see much of anything in the play left that will do that.

One thing that needs to be done is to make both the support from the community higher and the level of training and fitness of police match a real, professional level.  I don't think it makes any sense for police who are responsible for law enforcement, carrying a gun and being those we demand deal with everything from applying measured violence to providing compassionate care for those left on the street by the irresponsibility of the psychiatric profession to have less training than you need to be a barber or hair dresser in some states.  There is nothing better than a good, honest policeman and nothing worse than one who isn't.  We need the good ones and we need to weed out and prevent the bad ones from being police.  But that takes money and, frankly, preventing police unions from enabling the bad ones.

*  Look at the "Preamble" to their draft Constitution For the New Socialist Republic of North America.  2693 words.  And that's just the preamble!   If they came to power one of the results would be that the continent would be denuded of trees to print out their literature.

** Considering the obvious gratification of so many of these groups that violence is, risking lots of people being injured or killed in their mash ups, they're not really any different from the out of control cops.   I would challenge any of them to put their presence in Ferguson up to a vote by secret ballot.  Ultimately, that's why the police are there.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

About The Murder of James Foley, Reporter

There is something terrible and strange about having even an indirect connection to someone who is the victim of such a brutal and public murder as that of the reporter, James Foley.   His parents were casual friends of my mother.  I met his mother once and knew her voice on the phone, though that was as close as they came to me.   My mother worried a lot about James Foley after he disappeared, following every news story, not a close enough friend to discuss it with his parents.  I can't claim that I thought nearly as much about him as my mother did, but often enough so that the horror of his murder is enraging and chilling.

War reporters have minds I don't claim to understand.  I can't imagine such bravery as to go into battles and dangerous situations unarmed with a warrant of objectivity.  I can't imagine how they think but they obviously are some of the most important of journalists, real journalists who put themselves in the gravest of danger, going to the bother of seeing and finding out what really happens so they can tell us.  Knowing that they could get killed and that many of their colleagues do get killed.

So often reporters are obscure, unknown,  as the idiots, flunkies and liars, the pundits, the opinion "journalists" become famous and wealthy and their every bit of affluent angst due to their onerous work schedule of one to three columns of spewage a week cuts into their leisure and social lives, the real basis of their careers as "journalists", becomes "news", itself.  They are celebrities famous for being famous for lying, not reporters, not real journalists.  It is rather obvious that a lot of the biggest names in "journalism" put more time into their dinner invitations than they do fact checking. I'm sure as I begin to see what those people say about the murder of James Foley, how they use his corpse for their political purposes and as a prop in their propaganda, those will get more coverage than his work ever did before he was abducted.

There needs to be a real distinction made between real journalists, reporters of fact, and the parasite, "opinion",  that has done so much to discredit the profession of journalism, such as what fills up the cabloids on a daily basis and the weeks greatest concentration of lies and spin during the Sunday morning talk shows.  If there is any fitting tribute to journalists who are murdered as they try to report fact, it would be to get rid of those liars and spinners.

I'm not holding my breath but I owe it to reporters who sacrifice everything to do the service to The People, informing their political choices and decisions to point out how their work and their very lives are stolen, distorted, suppressed and spun to subvert the entire reason for their sacrifice.   James Foley died in service to government of, by and for The People,  exactly the kind of thing that ISIS wants to prevent happening in the places they rule by terror.  The opinion "journalists" here who will spin his murder don't serve representative democracy, either.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What Charlie Pierce Said

Intended Consequences
By Charles P. Pierce 8/19/2014 AT 5:25 PM
The Los Angeles Times followed some of the kids we deported back to Honduras. Things did not go well.

Like thousands of otsher undocumented Honduran children deported after having journeyed unaccompanied to the U.S., Sosa faces perilous conditions in the violent neighborhood from which he sought to escape. "There are many youngsters who only three days after they've been deported are killed, shot by a firearm," said Hector Hernandez, who runs the morgue in San Pedro Sula. 

"They return just to die." At least five, perhaps as many as 10, of the 42 children slain here since February had been recently deported from the U.S., Hernandez said.

It is now the stated position of most of the Republican party in this country, and of Republican politicians like Steve King and most of the prospective 2016 presidential field, that more children must be sent home to die this way. People should remember that.

As previously pointed out:  What The Bible Said:

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.  Deuteronomy 10:17-18

You shall neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.   Exodus 23:9

And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not vex him  Leviticus 19:33

Cursed be he that perverts the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.  Deuteronomy 27:19

Thus said the LORD; Execute you judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place. Jeremiah 22:3

The people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and have vexed the poor and needy: yes, they have oppressed the stranger wrongfully. Ezekiel 22:29

And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, said the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:5

The Republican Party, and others in our government have the blood of those children on their hands and their blood is on ours too because we tolerate them in office.